Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why the Attacks in India Should Surprise Nobody

Why the Attacks in India Should Surprise Nobody

by Deena Guzder

Most Americans were shocked to learn that coordinated terrorist attacks struck the heart of Mumbai, India's commercial capital on Wednesday evening. After all, India is not Iraq or Afghanistan or even Pakistan. According to pundits such as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, India is a shining capitalist success story and the next global superpower. In the pro-globalization narrative, India's eager-beaver working class has benefited greatly from neoliberal economic policies. Intellectuals extol India as the world's largest democracy and an example for the rest of the developing world to follow. Today, India is a popular tourist destination for everyone from backpackers on spiritual voyages to white-collar executives on business meetings.

Left: Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. Opened in 1903, is a landmark luxury Mumbai hotel located near the famous Gateway of India. It has more than 500 rooms and is a frequent destination for foreign travelers and the city's elite.

Americans are largely shielded from the shocking reality of India. According to the World Bank's own estimates on poverty, almost half of all Indians live below the new international poverty line of $1.25 (PPP) per day.[1] The World Bank further estimates that 33% of the global poor now reside in India. [2] Moreover, India also has 828 million people, or 75.6% of the population living below $2 a day, compared to 72.2% for Sub-Saharan Africa.[3] A quarter of the nation's population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40/day. Someone should tell the starving masses who have remained largely marginalized and subjugated that India is a "success story" because that's not reflected in most Indian's lives. Income inequality in India, as measured by the Gini coefficient, is increasing at a disturbingly destabilizing rate.[4] In addition, India has a higher rate of malnutrition among children under the age of three than any other country in the world (46% in year 2007).[5],[6] India is possibly the world's largest democracy by some definitions; however, as Mahatma Gandhi, once asked, "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?"

Pundits such as Friedman play golf with the global elite and then pontificate on perceived economic trends. In Friedman's book, The World is Flat, he suggests that "Indians should celebrate Y2K as its second independence day." Yet, by some estimates, the high-tech sector employs just 0.2 percent of India's one billion people. Americans are largely unaware of the violent, systemic poverty plaguing India because the country is reduced to a caricature where everyone fielding Americans' inquiries in call centers is prospering. Having lived in India for four years and visited the country every other year, I am painfully aware of the reality on the ground. India is a country where children are forcefully amputated by beggar-masters and sent to elicit money; where poor women sell their bodies to truck drivers and contract HIV at alarming rates; and, where American tourists nonchalantly spend enough money in one day to support a hungry family for months.

Left: Another suspected participant in the Mumbai attacks of the financial hub of India,

The recent attacks in India are morally repugnant, but the debate on how to curb terrorism needs to consider why people engage in such desperate acts in the first place. The perpetrators of yesterday's violence targeted two of Mumbai's most luxurious hotels: Taj Mahal and the Oberioi Trident. One night at either of these hotels costs, on average, Rupees 17,500 (US $ 355) in a country where the annual salary is Rupees 29,069 (US $590).[7] The death of over a hundred people on Wednesday should deeply upset the world, but it should also lead us to question the death of the 18 million people who die annually from the systemic violence of endemic poverty.[8] As Yale professor Thomas Pogge notes, the affects of poverty are felt exponentially more in certain parts of our "unflat" world: "If the developed Western countries had their proportional shares of [gratuitous] deaths, severe poverty would kill some 3,500 Britons and 16,500 Americans per week."[9]

Mahan Abedin, an insurgency analyst, told Al Jazeera after Wednesday nights attacks: "We have seen an increase in recent years in indigenous Indian Muslim organizations beginning to take a violent stance towards the Indian state and sections of the Indian society, particularly the commercial elite of places like Mumbai, in order to highlight, they would say, the sheer inequality of life in India."[10] Abedin continued, "there is a middle class of around 100 million who live very well but 800 million-plus people live in miserable conditions." Even people who commit heinous acts of violence occasionally make a valid point. The latest attacks should not evoke a knee-jerk effort to ratchet up the so-called Global War on Terror but, instead, make us question how to avoid such attacks in the future. By showing genuine concern for the plight of the millions of people who are at risk of death from poverty and by honoring the sanctity of the lives of the most destitute, we have the best chance of defeating the ideologies of hate.[11]








[8] Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights p. 99

[9] Pogge, Thomas W. World Poverty and Human Rights: Cosmopolitan Responsibilities and Reforms . Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002 p. 98


[11] Jeffrey D. Sachs "Net Gains." New York Times. April 29, 2006

Deena Guzder works for TIME Asia magazine in Hong Kong and is a dual-degree graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism and School of International and Public Affairs. Please feel free to email her at

Left: This image taken off from television and telecast on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008 shows two of the suspecs who were part of the attack in Mumbai, India.

There were 10 perpetrators in all. Nine were killed, while one has been captured alive. The arrested man, Ajmal Amin Kasab, was of Pakistani origin, although there is not specific informtion as to whether the suspect held a Pakistani passport. The identities of the other attackers had not yet been confirmed.

The ten men who struck Mumbai had set up advance “Control Rooms” in the luxury Taj and Trident Oberoi hotels which was also targeted and did prior reconnaisance executing plans worked “over months,” ten sites in all were targeted.

The unprecedented guerilla attack in the country’s financial capital was planned “over months” and the assailants were not carrying AK-47 rifles but more sophisticated weapons like the MP-6.

The group had identified the targets earlier. Enormous planning went into the incident. The attackers were dropped by a mother ship and traveled in rubber boats which they docked at Mumbai. Indian Navy ships accosted a ship registered in Vietnam thought to have brought the men to Mumbai, but released the vessel after it was searched.

Left: Activists of Hindu radical organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), shout slogans as they burn an effigy depicting Islamic Jihad and shout slogans against Islamic terrorism during a protest in the northern Indian city of Amritsar, 28 November 2008.

The militants calling themselves, Deccan Mujahadin, were not attacking people at random. It was a well thought out plan showing precision. They sought out locales where westerners convened and planned to hold hostages until their demands to release Islamic prisoners were met. They had also, targeted certain key police officers even when the officials were wearing bullet vests and protective head gears even so, the Deccan Mujahadi cell shot them dead within minutes of their arrival.

The death toll has risen to 195, of which 18 were foreign nationals. The number of injured was at 239, while the number of fatalities could pass 200. Indian officials did not specify how many of the dead had been hostages. There are also conflicting reports over whether U.S. and British citizens had been singled out as hostages, as several news reports has claimed on Wednesday. Officials at Trident Hotels (one wing of the Oberoi) said that the hostages there included one Japanese, three Americans and a Singaporean citizen. They did not know the total number of hostages taken there.


Mumbai Sifts Through the Rubble


Blogger Stern Gang said...

We have heard various speculations concerning the sources and motivations of Mumbai attacks on November 26, 2008. One consideration however, which has not been raised is whether Paskistan has a vested interest in fomenting these attacks in order to strengthen its position the Pakistan-United States relation?

It is also obvious that Pakistan does not appreciate the cross border incursions and the drone missile attacks inside its sovereign territory by NATO/US forces. This is not to infer that the Zardawi government is directly involved rather the suggestion is Pakistani military / intelligence circles may have calculated a more beneficial geopolitical posture along these lines. One must keep in mind that ever since its independence from British India, a major portion of Pakistani political power has rested in the military--this equation has yet to be altered in any significant manner.

Were the Mumbai attacks a means to alleviate certain pressures on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and offer Pakistan more maneuverability and a greater input into the Afghan conflict and the war on terror? Were the attacks a threat to both India and the US in that the very first reaction by the Pakistani government to the allegations that it was complicit in the Mumbai attacks was to suggest it would have to withdraw troops from FATA and other tribal areas as well as the Afghan border regions. Of course this insinuates that once the troops were redeployed to meet the Indian threat, the war on terror would also be scaled down.

The attacks seem to benefit some in India too. The current Congress party is seen as a weak government and doesn't match the security portfolio of the BJP. Therefore the strong language against Pakistan in the aftermath of the attacks. Could some right wing Hindu sectors have carried out the attacks in order to hue the Congress party as unsuitable for governance?

December 1, 2008 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger Stern Gang said...

"All this talk about Gen. Kiani threatening to move military troops from FATA is not helping the cooperation process:"

It's about time Pakistan spoke up and reminded the US about the sacrifices it has made on behalf of the US-led/NATO so-called war on terror. The remark was directed toward Washington D.C. in as much as it was meant for New Delhi consumption.

The estimated 10 billion dollars allocated to Pakistan, most of which in a scheme of weaponry can hardly be called a reciprocal political relationship or some sort of "even-steven" equation in light of the drone missiles and the cross border special forces raids in NWFP & FATA. Keep in mind Obama has promised more of these sovereignty busting citizenry dusting operations as soon as he sits, twists and swivels in his lounge chair in the white house. On an ancillary note, I wonder if Rahm and Barack will be using red phones to communicate like Batman and the Commissioner.

The tens of thousands of Pakistani troops on the border with Afghanistan and the tribal areas are their trump ace card in the geopolitical hole and the Pakistani military chose an opportune time to play it. Well done.

Maybe if Pakitan pulled that wild joker out earlier in the game, their pleas for financial support in facing this dire economic condition would have met some ready ears and open check books. Instead they had to get in line at the IMF office.

December 3, 2008 at 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stern hey there!
While i must confess to post election blogger fatigue, it is not why i havent been on WUFYS, fact is my IP is still banned. Sounds like good chaos going on there though.
Anyhoo, thanks for checking in with me brother.

December 4, 2008 at 1:42 PM  

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